Dr. Heather Morrison, P.E.I.s chief health officer, looks on as Dr. Lamont Sweet, the Islands deputy chief health officer, responds to media questions Monday in Charlottetown. Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
The province’s health department must wait “several days’’ before receiving lab results to help determine how 160 people became ill following a weekend church supper in Malpeque.
Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Lamont Sweet says all indications are that the cause of the wide spread illness was food-borne.
However, the ongoing investigation has yet to determine if a virus or bacteria is responsible.
Food and stool samples are currently being analyzed in a lab.
Sweet says the illnesses, mainly diarrhea but also some cases of abdominal pain and nausea, appear linked to the 500 meals that were sold Saturday at Princetown United Church, most as takeout dinners.
Many were ill for only a few hours but others reported being sick for 24 hours or longer, he said.
If this outbreak of illness proves to be food-born, this will mark only the third time in the past 22 years that community meals have resulted in food-borne illness on P.E.I.
Sweet believes a media announcement warning of possible food contamination likely prevented many further people from becoming ill.
Any remaining food purchased from the church on the weekend should be tossed out, he added.
The meal was roast beef, vegetables, roll and desserts. A portion of the meal was prepared on site and some of the items, including desserts, were brought into the venue.
“I guess it emphasizes the concern about preparing and serving meals to the public and what can happen if there happens to be a bacteria or virus that gets into the food that is served,’’ said Sweet.
He said a number of factors could lead to contamination of food: one food source can be contaminated and not properly washed; food can be inadequately cooked; a surface where food is being prepared may be contaminated; and a person or persons preparing the food may be ill.
A licence is required for a community group or venue to host suppers such as the one held Saturday at Princetown United Church.
Sweet said the church did have the proper licence.